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Israel Has No Right To Try Barghouti

GUSH SHALOM - pob 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033 - http://www.gush-shalom.org/

It was just a bit over two years ago - September 12, 2000. The Peace Tent was erected in the plaza outside the Tel-Aviv Cinemateque, under the slogan "Israel and Palestine - Two States Now!". In the list of featured speakers it was no surprise to see the name of Marwan Barghouti, member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, together with such speakers as Dalia Rabin, Uri Avnery and Tamar Gozanski...

A speaker of fluent Hebrew - picked up in prison during the first Intifada - and the personal friend of many Israelis from all over the political spectrum, Barghouti attended innumerable such events during the seven years of the Oslo process - always emphasizing his firm support for the two-state solution.

Just two weeks later, Ariel Sharon staged his Temple Mount provocation, embroiling the peoples in a cycle of bloodshed which is still far from ended. And today Marwan Barghouti had another public appearance in Tel-Aviv, just a few streets away from the Cinemateque: a handcuffed prisoner, he was brought to the Tel-Aviv District Court, there to be charged by the state of Israel with heinous acts of terrorism.

A number of Gush Shalom activists arrived at the court - among them Uri and Rachel Avnery - together with representatives of Machsom-Watch, New Profile, and Women for Peace. We had come two hours in advance to be sure of a place in the courtroom.

After a prolonged wait in front of a locked door, a band of security men emerged to push us far back and announce that admittance would be restricted to those on a list prepared long in advance. The only journalists allowed were those on a specific "pool" - just when and by whom it was defined was not clear, but quite a few well-known Israeli and foreign journalists found themselves out. As for the general public, it turned out that "Families of the vicitims of terrorism" were to be given precedence - such precedence that once they went in there was no place left for anybody else. ("Sorry, the courtroom is full, no more places inside").

The suicide bombings of the past two years, indiscriminate as they were, have hit at all parts of the Israeli population (the same could be said for the Palestinians killed and wounded in the scarcely less indiscriminate bombings and bombardments by Israeli tanks and aircraft). In the sad ranks of the bereaved families, all political opinions could be represented. But the families selected for the privilege of being present in the courtroom during the Barghouti trial were all of the extreme right.

Thus was produced the scene which we could see on our TV screens tonight: Barghouti, on his entry to the courtroom, meeting a uniformly hostile audience, which throughout the proceedings continued to shout abuse at the accused in the dock and his lawyers. Any hint that some parts of the Israeli society had a different attitude was carefully excluded from that courtroom, but not - as it turned out - from the media coverage.

We were left outside the locked doors - among the chaotic medley of Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, right-wingers and left-wingers, activists, police and security men, all mixed up in an increasingly heated atmosphere.

The stickers which we wore on our clothing, improvised on the previous evening for exaactly the case that we wouldn't be allowed in, bore the slogan "Barghouti to negotiations - not to trial". It drew considerable attention, some of it adverse. Debates often degenerated into shouting matches and bitter recriminations. We were faced with bereaved family members with genuine grief. But does even grief for a daughter killed in a suicide bombing - incidentally, one which happened when Barghouti was already behind bars - justify a woman in rudely shouting at any Palestinian she could see "You are aliens here, foreigners! This is our land and ours only!")?

On the TV news the outdoors events got considerable attention, probably to the chagrin of those who wanted it to be a neat show trial.

The biggest surprise however was given by the youngest member of Barghouti's legal team, Advocate Shammai Leibowitz - like his grandfather the late Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz an Orthodox Jew adept at giving unorthodox interpretations. "The struggle of the Palestinians to be free of the occuption is reminiscent of the Exodus of our forefathers from Egypt.

Moses had killed an Egyptian foreman which he saw beating a Hebrew slave, and had to flee from Egypt. The Egyptian aurhorities had no right to try Moses like Israel now has no right to try Barghouti."

[Reported by Adam Keller]

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